Legal experts foresee serious trouble for Donald Trump following reports of a recording from July 2021 in which the former president claimed to have classified documents about a possible U.S. attack on Iran after leaving the White House.
CNN’s report Wednesday that federal prosecutors obtained the audio amid special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents would, if accurate, lead to another criminal indictment for Trump, they said.
Former civil prosecutor Maya Wiley, appearing on MSNBC’s “The Beat,” described the audio as “explosive” and said it was “the last nail in a coffin that already has a whole lot of nails in it.”
On the same show, former federal prosecutor Paul Butler said it was “devastating for Donald Trump.”
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who investigated Trump’s role in Russian interference in the 2016 election, told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace it could be “game over” for Trump.
“There is no way that he will not be charged,” said Weissmann.
The audio differentiated Trump’s classified documents case to those of President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence. Both also were found to have classified materials in their possession, but unlike Trump handed them over when asked, said Weissmann.
If reports about the tape are accurate, Weissmann said, “There will be an indictment and it is hard to see how given all the evidence that we’ve been talking about that there will not be a conviction here. I mean, this is a tape recording.”
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, talking on MSNBC’s “The 11th Hour,” said it would be “unbelievably powerful to play a tape recording for a jury and to have them hear the defendant essentially confess that he knew that he could not declassify information on the spot,” which has been one of Trump’s defenses in the scandal.
Former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams told CNN’s Anderson Cooper there is “no such thing as a smoking gun in the real world.”
But the reported recording would be “incredibly valuable evidence because it speaks to intent, it speaks to knowledge and it speaks to what he knew that he had. So it is, as far as evidence goes, very, very powerful,” he said.
Former Defense Department special counsel Ryan Goodman said the audio, and what Trump reportedly said in it, raised the former president’s “criminal exposure.”
“War plans are among the most highly classified documents,” Goodman wrote on Twitter. “Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict.”
“Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case. It is not simply an ‘obstruction’ case,” Goodman added. “There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove.”
Trump faces a trial scheduled for next year on criminal charges related to a hush money payment to porn actor Stormy Daniels. In addition to the classified documents probe, he’s also under criminal investigation for trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia and for efforts to cling to power that led to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.